New Browsers

Last night I downloaded and installed two new browsers.

Firstly I booted my laptop into Windows for the first time for months (it’s the only computer in the house that has Windows installed) and installed IE7. First reactions? A big “so what?” It’s (obviously) a vast improvement on IE6, but I can’t see anything that will obviously draw Windows-based Firefox users back to IE. My big hope for it is that it will be adopted by IE6 users really quickly so that web designers (and I, laughably, like to include myself in that group) can stop using the horrible hacks that are needed to get round IE6’s nasty broken implementation of CSS.

Then, back on home ground in Linux, I installed the release candidate for Firefox 2.0 (the full release is expected within the next couple of weeks). I didn’t have long to play with it, but it seems pretty good. I’ll keep using it as my default browser for a few days and see how it goes.

Firefox vs Internet Explorer

A nice rant by Kate Bevan in today’s Guardian technology supplement. She’s fed up of going into corporate clients’ offices and finding that Internet Explorer is the only browser available. Firefox has been available and stable for 18 months. Why do corporate IT departments still insist on forcing IE onto their users?

So being dumped in front of a computer that insists on using IE is a nasty shock. For starters, only the beta of the very newest version – IE7 – uses tabbed browsing. Command-click on a link in any other version and it opens a new window. One office I regularly work at deploys ancient iMacs running a five-year-old operating system. Open more than two IE windows and it crashes. Bashing the keyboard or mouse won’t work – you have to go nuclear and pull out the power lead.

I have plenty of sympathy. IE is the corporate standard for my current clients. In fact I’ve recently learned that downloading and installing Firefox might be considered a sacking offence as it’s not on the list of approved software. But I’m prepared to take the risk as asking someone to develop web applications using IE constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. But developing on Firefox for users who are going to be using IE has its own problems. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve written something only to find that it doesn’t work in IE.

Memo to corporate IT departments: Get Firefox installed. You know it makes sense.

Orange Web Site in Firefox

Large corporations with broken web sites are, of course, still very common. But with the new version of their business web site, Orange are breaking all records.

The main symptom is that Firefox users can’t click on any of the links. Clicks seem to just be ignored. Right-clicking on a link and selecting “open in new tab” still works, but that’s not a fun way to navigate a web site. Discussions on the Orange mailing list indicate that it works in IE and Safari, but little else.

Trying to work out how the page works in order track down the problem is a nightmare. The site is created by some horrible looking Java servlet engine. And there are large numbers of interacting Javascript files.

Firefox, of course, is helpful in tracking down the problem. Actually, it’s almost too helpful. Opening the Javascript console shows a huge number of errors. But clearing it and reloading the page shows that there’s a Javascript function (called dcsLoadHref) which isn’t getting defined. This function seems to be part of the click-tracking software that Orange are using and that this software is supplied by WebTrends. I can’t tell if the WebTrends software is fundamentally broken or if it’s just whoever implemented it on the Orange site who broke it.

There’s also some browser detection code in there as the site wants to use ActiveX if you’re running IE. I think it’s trying to use it to display a Flash presentation, but I don’t see why it can’t use EMBED or OBJECT tags like most sites do.

All in all it’s very broken and looks like a very amateur job. There has certainly been no testing of the site on anything other than IE and with IE market share falling, that’s an incredibly stupid mistake to make.

It’s worrying to think that even in 2006 there are still web design companies who buy into the Microsoft “one browser web” idea and even more worrying to think that there are big companies who will accept this view of the web.